Being concerned about your health is very important. How your body functions, and whether or not it is able to function well in all instances, is critical to your ability to navigate the world and complete daily tasks. Ensuring you are in good physical shape by paying close attention your diet – thinking carefully about what you put in your body – and routinely staying active – finding ways to be in motion at regular intervals throughout the day and keeping up with stretches and exercises to stay limber and fit – is key to living a long, healthy, and happy life.
Thinking about your physical health shouldn’t be your only concern, however. In recent years it has become clear to healthcare professionals that mental health – the wellbeing and ability to function of your mind – is just as critical in ensuring you have a lengthy and enjoyable time on this earth. Unfortunately, taking care of the health of your mind is not as straightforward as taking care of the health of your body: there is no simple set of instructions for maintaining mental wellbeing.
Where for your body you can simply workout regularly, eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, and regularly visit the doctor, your mind is a far fickler machine that requires an entirely different set of practices to stay well. What’s more, each mind is different! Strategies for mental health which work brilliantly for one individual may not succeed at all for another. This makes it even more complicated to come up with routines and rituals which strengthen and maintain your mental health.
In the past three years the COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue of mental health at once more visible and more complex. The effect of repeated nationwide lockdowns, self-isolation requirements, as well as the total uncertainty surrounding the progression of the virus itself has caused severe anxiety in many individuals – no matter the situation, the sudden sweeping spread of Coronavirus had a major impact on everyone’s life.
Folks who continued to spend their day doing critical jobs as key workers faced the dangers of contracting COVID-19, as well as the stress of ensuring extra care was taken over cleaning and PPE protection. On the other hand, there were also people who were asked to stay home from work, or whose jobs were cancelled entirely for months on end as businesses shut in order to keep people from congregating. For such individuals stress was brought on by the sudden lack of purpose, the isolation and confinement, as well as the anxiety induced by having to leave the house against government advice.
Now that the pandemic appears to be easing up in many places around the world, it is worth spending some time learning how best to take care of your mind. As everyone begins to emerge from their isolation once more into a social world, here are 3 simple ways to start taking better care of your mental health.
Take Care of Your Body
The first step to taking care of your mental health is, fortunately, extremely easy if you are already taking care of your physical health. The relationship between the body and the mind is extremely complex: the two are inextricably linked. This has been known for centuries, and traditional healers in cultures around the world have long focused on the ways in which treatment for the body can also provide treatment for the mind.
During the European colonization of Africa, for example, slave owners routinely subjected human beings to violence, disease, confinement, and maltreatment. Of course, enslaved people were not allowed modern medicine, but many African slaves relied on the careful utilization of traditional plants to treat the body in ways which would also ensure strength of mind under these extremely horrific conditions.
Scientific research is currently exploring the extent to which health of the body affects health of the mind, but in order to make this connection work for your own mental health you really only need to know the basics: get outside, stay hydrated, get some exercise, go to the doctor. You simply cannot be at your mental best if you are ill, in pain, or if your body isn’t able to do the things you need it to.
In order to strengthen and maintain the health of your mind it is important to strengthen and maintain the health of your body as best you can. Without a strong foundation of physical health to start from, you won’t get anywhere with your mind anytime soon!
Find a Purpose
Something that the pandemic brought to the fore for many people was the need to have a purpose in day-to-day life. Few individuals realized just how important the imperative to go to work in the morning (which had long been a dreaded thing for many) was to a sense of meaning and fulfilment at the end of the day. Without the need to be somewhere, to be doing something, and to be providing something – whether a product, a service, or simply as one functioning cog in a complex system of company or government bureaucracy – many people found their mental health totally collapsed.
In instances where you don’t have a job to go to everyday, make sure you have other purposeful work to be doing in order to avoid this state. Pursuing a hands-on hobby like woodworking or sewing – both of which create things, which is a huge bonus to mental health – or committing to renovating and repairing parts of your home yourself will help support your sense of self, of purpose, and of drive. Your mind will thank you if you give it challenging work, even when you don’t necessarily have a job that challenges you.
For others, the high stakes of the pandemic (catching the virus, perhaps, or experiencing the sudden death of a loved one from COVID-19) brought about the desire to take on meaningful work instead of simply having a job for the sake of it. For such folks, the inanity of a job which did no good or had no concrete result became unbearable. The cognitive dissonance of working hard while not providing any good or concrete product can be extremely strenuous on the mind.
If this is the situation in which you find yourself – whether as a result of the pandemic or not – consider re-training and finding a job in a field that is hands-on, engaging, and meaningful. Perhaps the best field for this type of work is nursing. Hospitals and clinics are always in need of nursing, and getting trained as a nurse is straightforward as well: the Passan School of Nursing at Wilkes University offers various degrees for every type of individual. Changing your profession in order to seek out work which is challenging, and which makes a difference, will do a world of good for your mental health.
Connect with Others
Something else the pandemic brought into sharp relief for many was the importance of human connection. Yet another element of daily life that was taken for granted by most people was the small interactions you have with other people: at work, at the grocery store, on public transit, out to lunch with friends or drinks with a date. Some realized that, without their weekly group yoga class or volunteer community gardening session to look forward to, life became a lot bleaker.
Human beings are naturally social animals. Connecting with others is a hugely important part of the ability to feel happy and productive. Also, the support provided by groups of people is critical to maintaining individual health and wellbeing! Being able to share stories, ideas, and receive positive affirmation – or even constructive criticism – is the foundation to feeling as though you are a part of the world.
Unfortunately, due to the increasingly mediated nature of the world at present, most people have few opportunities to socialize with others. Much work has become remote in the aftermath of the lockdowns, and the increasing commercialization of public spaces means there are few places to organically find other people with whom to connect and communicate. While it is nice to have a long video chat with a friend or group zoom with colleagues, there is no substitute for being in a physical group of people.
In order to make sure your mental health is at its best, continuously seek out ways in which you can connect to others. Whether that means making a community group which does gardening, carpentry, or goes fishing, or whether it means getting involved with a local political or social group which does social work in the community, meeting and engaging with a variety of people in real life is by far the best way to make sure you’re looking after your mind.
While there is a great deal more things you can do to help your mental health – therapy is a strong start – these three basic tips make a great foundation for a strong mind.